Executive City Councillor Renate Brauner on living well, quotas for women, and why the American dream is nonsense
People notice when she walks into a room. Something in the combination of her warm demeanor, calm en- thusiasm and infectious laugh catches people off guard. Born in Favoriten to a German father and a mother from the Bohemian Forest, Renate Brauner is certainly as Viennese as they come. As the Executive City Councillor of Finance, Economic and International Affairs she deals with questions of budget, spending and equality. In fact, the topic of social equality has accompanied her all her life.
Brauner – who has lived in, and loved, the 5th district for 20 years – was the first in her family to go to university. “Back then it was not a given, if you were from a humble background,” Brauner explained. When she graduated from the University of Vienna with a degree in economics, she already felt the need to be involved in policy.
“I was always interested, because I knew that without things like free school books, free public transport for students, I could never have gotten my degree. My parents couldn’t afford it.”
She is a product of Bruno Kreisky’s open education policies, Brauner says. She stood up for women’s rights, protested antiquated curricula and the nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf. And when she encountered the neofascist organization Aktion Neue Rechte marching with anti-Semitic banners, she knew she needed to take action. Soon after, she joined the social democratic student organization. Many of these themes have stayed with her: inclusion regardless of heritage or gender, and class-free access to higher education.
Life for women in politics has changed since the ‘80s, and the nonstop schedule of a politician has – if anything – gotten even more intense. “Of course there are moments when I wish I saw my husband more often,” she says. “But, on the other hand, I have to say it’s a whole lot of fun,” she laughs.
Earlier that day she had been at a rally for the SPÖ women’s organization. “For about 20 years I’ve been the head of this group. Just seeing so many enthusiastic young women and being able to help them … it’s a topic that’s close to my heart.”
She’s also a proponent of quotas. “Not because I think quotas are great,” she explains. “I think it’s sad that we need them.” For instance, she seldom hears now that there are no women in certain industries. “If you force them, strangely enough, women are suddenly there.” She sees plenty of room for improvement in technological fields, but says it’s a step-by-step process.
Her other focus is “smart city” Vienna, which means intelligent solutions in all areas – “from using new and innovative technologies, to the most important thing, the Viennese USP: social inclusion.” It is this internationalism, she says, that makes Vienna so alive.
People often discuss the competition with other cities like Prague or Budapest: “Everything’s cheaper, the workforce is cheaper.” She thinks these aren’t the decisive factors for a city’s success.
“In reality, the only things that count in international comparisons are intelligent solutions and quality.” Today, quality means science, research, development and young ideas.
But upward mobility requires support – a leg up – from the government, Brauner says. “I think this American dream is nonsense,” she shakes her head. “Thinking you can just suck it up, work hard and get rich, that’s just rubbish. It’s really a question of the social circumstances.”
So Brauner and her team are committed to promoting equal opportunity in education and employment. “We don’t want education, university or career chances to depend on your gender or the color of you skin,” she stresses. It’s about fairness. “That’s what makes a di erence.”
Where to find Renate Brauner in October
The location of our interview is a café and bakery owned by Gregor Lemmerer. Through the window, you see mouthwatering cakes and confections being crafted. Brauner loves the “super muesli”.
This one-of-a-kind relic of ‘50s architecture has a dedicated following of people like Brauner, for both “sophisticated” films and blockbusters. “When I can find the time *cough, cough* I love catching a movie there.”
Two brothers, Marcel and Sascha Ruhm, created this Asian fusion hotspot after colorful careers abroad, from The Fat Duck in London to Nobu Matsuhisa in St. Moritz and Mykonos.
Brauner recommends this citywide event, organized by the Vienna Business Agency, when Viennese galleries display the work of international contemporary artists. This year’s theme “image/reads/text” examines the significance and function of language in contemporary art with exhibitions in 21 galleries accross Vienna.